Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte
|Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte|
Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte, author of `Nowhere, a Story of Exile,' is an Armenian refugee from Baku, Azerbaijan. After fleeing Baku in the fall of 1989, Anna and her family spent three years in Armenia as refugees before coming to United States of America in 1992.
Anna received Bachelor of Arts degrees in English & Literature and Philosophy & Religion, along with a minor in Russian Language & Literature from the University of North Dakota in 2000. In 2002 Anna received an Outstanding Law Student of the Year by Who's Who American Law Students for her work on the International Criminal Court (ICC). She received her Juris Doctor degree from the University of Maine School of Law in Portland, Maine in 2003. After graduating from law school Anna was one of the first Americans to clerk at the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands after working on and observing its creation at the United Nations in New York.
In 2012 Anna published her first book, titled Nowhere, a Story of Exile, which she wrote at the age of 14 as her family was settling in North Dakota. The book is based on the childhood diaries she kept as her family was fleeing Baku and during life in Armenia as refugees.
In 2013 Anna was honored by the President of Armenia Serzh Sargsyan by being awarded the Mkhitar Gosh Medal. It rewards exceptional achievements in the political-social spheres, as well as outstanding efforts in the fields of diplomacy, law and political science. In 2013 Anna also received a Gratitude Medal from the President of Nagorno-Karabakh, Bako Sahakyan.
Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh, and human rights issues are her life long passions. Anna always strives to reach out to the needs of the people of Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenian Diaspora. Anna travels around the United States, writing and lecturing on topics that are dear to her heart. She works in banking regulatory reform and lives in Maine with her husband and their son and daughter.
Wicked Local, MA Feb 1 2016
Armenian genocide survivor shares story
Recently, Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte presented her story to the Armenian International Women's Association New England Affiliate as a part of the series titled `Resilient Women.'
Astvatsaturian Turcotte, a refugee from Baku, Azerbaijan, discussed her book `Nowhere, a Story of Exile' and her life of Armenian American activism. Her story allows readers to share her memories of an 11-13 year old refugee child in Baku.
Anna's grandfather Yeghishe survived the Armenian Genocide which took place in Turkey in 1915 only to find himself in 1918 trapped where thousands of Baku Armenians were slaughtered. Anna's family escaped the killings by boat across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan. After World War II Yegishe returned to Baku when the Soviet regime in Azerbaijan reassured Armenians that Baku was now safe. That is how Anna's family history restarted in Baku. For safety reasons that is when their family changed the ending of their last name in order not to become identified as Armenian but Russian.
She had admiration her father Norik as he told her stories of Armenia. He described the virtuous, strong Armenian women in his native village in the Armenian province of Syunik. These women became her role models and gave her strength to persevere through hardships to come.
When anti-Armenian pogroms began in Sumgait, Azerbaijan, in February of 1988, Anna's grandmother Lyuda played an important role in her life. It was Lyuda who encouraged her to start keeping a diary saying, `Things like this don't happen every day, and you must never forget,' she said. This diary eventually became Anna's book, `Nowhere, A Story of Exile. Anna learned in 1923 the land called Nagorno-Karabakh, which was historically Armenian, was taken from Armenia by Stalin and handed over to Azerbaijan. That's where the dispute begins.
The 1988 Sumgait pogroms were the beginning of massive massacres in Azerbaijan that spread to Kirovabad then Baku. The Soviet Union began to fall apart and in 1991 the Soviet Republics asserted their independence. Her neighborhood was in the center of the violent demonstrations. The family was living in the dark, windows shut, trying to wait out the storm. The only thing that saved them was that their last name had a Russian ending. Also, their Azerbaijani neighbors who distracted the thugs from entering their apartment.
She described how her father locked the doors and waited in the dark, with only a knife in his hand to protect them. Anna was confused watching this sudden surge of violence against innocent Armenians. She described watching the developing rage and hatred against the Armenian population of Azerbaijan. She saw Azeri people attacking citizens, simply for being Armenian. Anna's school was constantly raided, the rioters looking for Armenian students. She saw they were surrounded for months by Soviet tanks who never offered any security.
When thousands of Armenians died during the Dec. 7, 1988 earthquake which destroyed one third of the developed cities and countryside in Armenia, the Baku Armenians received festive cards from Azerbaijani citizens, congratulating them on the deaths of Armenians. Going to school became terrifying. It was around this time she developed a strong sense of justice.
She saw people left bruised and beaten, left with nothing, in the middle of the night, dressed only in their night gowns, boarding ships. She watched and heard how the Baku government began its propaganda of hatred to ignite everyday citizens against their neighbors. Her family found out that her grandparents' graves and all the Armenian cemeteries were destroyed. The Armenian Church she visited in the center of Baku was set on fire. More than 300,000 Armenians fled from Baku. According to Anna, the documented destruction in Baku and the total destruction of the medieval Armenian Cemetery in Djulfa, Azerbaijan has never been mentioned in the U.S. State Department's Human Rights or Religious Freedom reports.
The only place they could go was Yerevan, Armenia. But the people were suffering because of the earthquake that demolished major cities. Yerevan was filled with thousands of refugees. Turkey and Azerbaijan then blockaded Armenia, cutting off their fuel, electricity, water and so many provisions needed for survival. Many of their Baku family and friends lived in theaters, old prisons, abandoned buildings and empty factories.
Three years later, after living under severe conditions in Yerevan due to the punishing Azerbaijan and Turkish blockade, they made their way to the United States, where they settled in North Dakota. Her parents worked and Anna finished high school, university and law school, began to work and started a family.
Once her children were born, she published the diary from when she was 11 to 13 years old. She was invited to speak to a Congressional audience on Capitol Hill, the European Parliament and across Armenian and non-Armenian communities in the United States and Europe.
Being a mother made her think not only of her own children, but the children of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh who are still endangered today. She was inspired by the states of Rhode Island and Massachusetts for passing resolutions in support of the right of self determination for the people of Nagorno-Karabakh and successfully led her state, Maine, to pass a resolution in its House of Representatives in support of NKR independence.
Nearly three decades later, little by little, the stories of Baku Armenians began to emerge, the community energized and became leaders in business, law and other industries. This past year the South Dakota and Tennessee Baku Armenians were helpful in challenging the passing of the Azeri sponsored anti-Armenian resolutions which were spreading misinformation about Armenian people.
`It is alarming that Azerbaijan is still attacking the borders of Armenia and Karabakh. In 100 years we suffered genocide, natural disasters, Soviet rule, ethnic cleansing, war, blockade and economic devastation,' said Anna.
Residents may obtain a copy of her book, `Nowhere, A Story of Exile,' on Amazon.com.
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